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Friends and also strangers

By October 24, 2012 No Comments

I know the candidate I am voting for, but I nevertheless have dutifully watched all three presidential debates.  By the last one, however, I almost didn’t bother—I was worn out. But my desire to be a well-informed citizen made me endure it.  And as an academic, I keenly believe in interacting with primary sources (here: the debates), rather than learning about them second-hand. 

Still…I’m not sure that watching made any difference, that it furthered my knowledge of issues or policies, or that it made me better able to talk with folks who support the other candidate.   

And I was struck when I looked at facebook (because, seriously, during that last debate multitasking was completely possible) and found this posting:  “Decided not to watch. Praying instead.”  I wondered if my friend has chosen the better part.

The next time I post on this blog, the election will be over, for better or for worse.  And, no matter who has won, we’ll still have to do the hard work of living together–in our towns, in our churches. The divisions will not end.  Political work is certainly critical in bringing about justice.  But community happens only when we change our view of those with whom we live, when we can pray alike for our friends, and as we are commanded, for our “enemies.”

Last January, I interviewed one of my intellectual and spiritual role models, Marilynne Robinson.  At the end of the interview, I asked her to close by reading a beautiful prayer she had written to accompany a sermon she preached after 9/11.  In this season of cacophony, my words, my answers seem insufficient.  These seemed like they might do instead:

Our Heavenly Father, we thank you for the privilege of life in this radiant world. We ask that we may be awake to the privilege of sharing this life and this world with one another, with friends and also strangers—those we know in our relationships of deepest love and those we will never know at all. Let us never forget to feel your grace in their knowledge or art or skill or magnanimity, in their patience and endurance and honesty. Let us see and honor your kindness as it is expressed to us in those friends and those innumerable strangers who create and sustain our peace. Let us enjoy in deep gratitude all the things that we have received at the hands of other generations—this dear old church, this pleasant town, more goodness than we could ever hope to name. Now that the old temptations of fear and hatred present themselves again, so suddenly and so starkly, let us never forget that the Kingdom of God is a human city, and that, however beautiful it may be, the greatest beauty in it will be humankind at one with God, healed and reconciled and gloriously at peace.


This prayer is copyrighted by Marilynne Robinson.  

Jennifer L. Holberg

I am professor and chair of the Calvin University English department, where I have taught a range of courses in literature and composition since 1998. An Army brat, I have come to love my adopted hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan. Along with my wonderful colleague, Jane Zwart, I am the co-director of the Calvin Center for Faith and Writing, which is the home of the Festival of Faith and Writing as well as a number of other exciting endeavors. Given my interest in teaching, I’m also the founding co-editor of the Duke University Press journal Pedagogy: Critical Approaches to Teaching Literature, Language, Composition and Culture. My book, Nourishing Narratives: The Power of Story to Shape Our Faith, was published in July 2023 by Intervarsity Press.

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